Interview with ALVIN TAN LEE, PHILIPPINES

If you're starting film photography, it can seem pretty overwhelming. You'll learn many lessons and perhaps most of which were not taught in the classroom.


Before we start, Alvin. Can you tell us something about yourself and how you got into film photography?


Alvin: I am already 61 years old so I really started with film. I have been into photography for more than 40 years. I am the past president of the De La Salle University Camera Club 1976 to 1978. I am also was once in the roster of artist of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)  around 1978 for my photo's of ex convicts with tatoo and also of smokey mountain which was part of a asean roadshow sponsored by the CCP during that time. My mentor is Mr. Honesto Vitug, a legend in Philippine Photography and is considered the Dean of the Press Photographers in the Philippines. He took photos of all the Philippine Presidents from Quezon to Marcos. I am a purely Black and White shooter.


What type of film do you use and what camera do you use it with? Why do you prefer these?


Alvin: I use KODAK tri-x before and now ILFORD HP5.  I still use my old cameras Nikon F and F2 as well as Rolleiflex TLR.



What do you think film has that digital doesn't have?



Alvin: Although I shoot with a Fuji Gfx medium format now. Film has more depth when compared to digital. It has a certain look that is hard to explain. You can notice the difference when you put two of these pictures side by side.


Do you print your own photographs or are you comfortable having them printed in a lab?

Alvin: I was very lucky to have some of the best printers in the Philippines to print for me, although I myself knows how but my artisan skill is not as good as them. Unfortunately, most of the printers I used are either have passed away or has retired. That is why very few people in the Philippines can print in the darkroom well. So hybrid film photographers are created which is scan then view in the computer, only 50% of the photographic process is achieve. Is that real film photography? Digitally I print with Jo Avila, an ILFORD Master. We do photography the old school way which is basically dodge and burn with very minimal intervention. I am currently looking for a good darkroom printer to print for me. I print side by side with printers all the time.


What motivates you to continue making photographs with film?



Alvin: I will always be a film photographer till my last breath. Photography for me is a way of life. I have done this all my life and there is no letup that is why I use a medium format even in digital which is a Fuji GFX.


Are there any photographers that influenced your way of making pictures?


Alvin: Of course my mentor Mr. Honesto Vitug.  Eugene Smith, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and his assistants.  Annie Leibovitz.


Do you see any value shooting with film? 


Alvin: Film makes you become a real photographer.



What do you think is the future of film photography?



Alvin: I think there is a resurgence here in the Philippines but it wont be as big as before. That is why it is important for veterans like me to spread some knowledge about film photography because it is how we started.


What’s your dream photography project?

Alvin: Basically I exhibit my work once a year here in the Philippines. I exhibit in Crucible Gallery. They are my curator. I do fine art work now as compared to photo and socio-documentary during my younger days.


Would you like to share some advise to those who want to try out film photography for the first time? What must they learn before venturing into this format?



Alvin: First, they need to become better persons with empathy and compassion for others, be truthful as a person then the photography will show naturally. This is old school photography.


Amazing stuff, Alvin!


Alvin is preparing for an exhibit next year. Its a two man show with fellow photographer Mr. Voltaire Yap from DLSU Camera Club.


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Well now, if you are a passionate film photographer and would like to be interviewed? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at mapamelvin@gmail.com with the subject, "Interview me", and share everyone your story, thoughts, and work related to film photography. I’ll get back to you as soon as I receive your request for an interview.


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Cheers!

Mel


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